I came across this tweet the other day, and it sparked a couple of thoughts. First, it reminded me of something Sam Ovens talks about in one of his videos. One of the points he was trying to get across was that in a 2019 environment, the quality of your product and offering matters even more than your marketing.

In a world where digital distribution is now relatively easy because of the internet and our general global connectivity, a really good product will convert its users and customers to raving fans and evangelists of the brand. They by sheer love and enthusiasm, spread the word virally. Every new person who comes into the product ecosystem is so impressed that they invite more, setting off a virtuous cycle of raving fans converting more raving fans.

I echoed the same sentiment two weeks ago in a Brand Sprint Workshop I was facilitating with a client. Without giving out too much, they are working on an online platform to deliver services to business on a subscription basis. It is a great idea with massive potential. But for it to work, the product must be great, or at least very good. It must fulfil on its promise so well that users tell everyone else they know about it. It must work and exceed expectations.

We don’t have patience any more as consumers. If there is a better alternative, we will go there. We are loyal to fewer brands than the generations before us. We are spoiled and used to being catered to. We expect our food and rides at the tap of a button, and our entertainment and distractions on demand.

User experience is king.

End of the MVP?

Contrast this with the previous prevailing ideal of Minimum Viable Product and finding product market fit quickly.

In traditional MVP dogma, we ought to move fast and break things. We research to see if there is a market for our offering and then we cobble together a basic form of the product and take that to market. We do this to capture market share. The idea is to launch quickly and over time improve and refine the offering.

There are many versions of this approach, and it is very useful in making sure we get real data and feedback before committing huge amounts of money and time in building something that no one wants.

But you can’t remain MVP forever. Your product and offering must grow and evolve and become the best it can be. As with all things, there has to be balance. A crappy product or service will lose users and customers. But a great product that nobody wants is not great at all. Great products and offerings meet a real need and provide a great experience.

MVP can get you in the door, gathering your first users and customers. But some companies are spending more time perfecting their product before release to the wider public. The bet here, is that instead of marketing and sales driving adoption, the quality and usefulness of the product does it.

These companies respect the artisanal tradition, taking the time to craft and build truly remarkable products. Products so well made, that they convert users to fans. I only heard about Notion a few weeks ago and I couldn’t stop telling everyone about it. In fact, I’m drafting this blog post on it right now, and its now an indispensable tool in staying productive and organised.

It may not be a household name yet, but with raving fanbase, and delighted users, it is probably only a matter of time.

The Apple effect?

Whenever I think about the love of design and care that these products clearly display, as well as the raving fandom, I think about Apple. They do stand out today as prime examples of what happens when a company is committed to making great products that just work and exceed expectations. You get one of the most valuable companies in the world.

But Apple was not the first Apple, before Apple there was IBM. In a memo from December 20, 1966, TJ Watson founder of the company raises the call to arms:

Good design is good business. Imaginative use of design helps to sell our products. Pleasant, efficient work areas contribute to better morale and productivity. Dramatic design in printed material increases its message impact.

The Vice President, Communications is responsible for coordinating all company design activities in architecture,interiors, displays, products, packaging and printed material.

Since design excellence concerns all areas of the business, you should make certain all your people are aware of its importance.

IBM understood that a cohesive design plan, a respect for the interconnectedness of things, and doubling down on this approach would yield many benefits. It paid off for them even back then.

Is design the future?

As a design professional, I am obviously biased. I do believe that design is the future. The problem, is that most people, companies and even designers do not know what to do with it.

Previously, design was more concerned on the aesthetics, how things looked and felt. And there is certainly a place for such poetics. Well designed things add value to us, nourish our souls and even facilitate our lives.

But design goes much deeper than just aesthetics. It is an approach, it is empathy, it is discovery, it is organising, and it is problem solving.

InVision recently released The New Design Frontier report highlighting 5 levels of design maturity from the surface level of design as making things pretty to design as business strategy. They discovered that the more design mature a company is, the more impact they enjoy.

Every successful company has the same key components in place – a functioning and well oiled machine that is the business itself, a firm customer or user base, and a great product, service or offer that is exchanged or facilitated by the company for the customer.

In a design mature company, they are able to understand their customers and environment in a very intimate way, and respond to challenges with innovative processes, and solutions. They make things that work brilliantly and exceed expectations.

The biggest companies in the world are woke to this and have design has a strong part of their strategy and execution. IBM alone hired thousands designers over the past few years.

But these are not just designers skilled in the craft of layout,typography, modelling, building. They understand strategy, they understand business, they explore human behaviour, needs and trends and they bring all these things together, these tools of enquiry, exploration and creation and they unlock new value. The innovations that change our lives, and the experiences that enrich them.

In the 2019 world and beyond, our expectations, and realities are different. The more connected your company is with its customers and users and the better you serve their needs while respecting the laws of the business landscape, the better poised you will be for success.

There is the opportunity to win and win big, but it does happen without good design. It doesn’t happen without a strategy, and impeccable execution and keen attention to what you are building.